We all know we get a lot of these - some ought to be immediately consigned to the "It's an Instagram filter" bucket & quietly left to rot by the wayside.

Others, however - even though the OP either didn't know what to call it, or didn't bother with a description - can relatively easily be turned into acceptable questions.
The usual problem is the OP never returns, so the question is put on hold, after a barrage of "what do you mean by what's this effect?" comments.

Some of them, even though really 'broad' are really easy to answer - then just back-fill the question & fix the tags to make it more self-contained.

One of this type I recently got lucky on - 10 mins with the camera & an hour in photoshop & the answer space & people seemed to like it; I hit rep cap 3 days in a row so far. Yay for me, lots of invisible internet points;-)

On the other hand, I've spent similar amounts of time on answers that were actually complained about & threatened with down-votes because I hadn't fixed the question first!

I trashed the last one of those, in a huff.

Frankly, that's not really the way to handle things.
If a question can be reasonably well back-filled, whether by the OP [rare] or one of the members, after giving the OP a day or two to see if they come back to do it themselves then I'd have thought we'd want to encourage good answers... or at least good attempts.

Some people learn from 'tutorial style' QA, however simplistic it may be to some of our more experienced members; they may not have even been looking for that specific technique or style, but it just caught their eye on the way past & becomes a new weapon in their arsenal.

Could we perhaps have a policy of "don't hammer the poor bugger, he didn't know any better" & if a decent answer can be added, to add it & then backfill the question after giving them reasonable chance to fix it themselves?

BTW, we know they should have read the help pages first, but the fact is some people are help page readers & some will never be.

Cases in point -

How do I achieve this eye highlight? -3 in the first hour, when all it needed was someone to add 'catchlight, or less technically 'eye highlight'. Admittedly, the original title of "how do I achieve this photo effects" was a non-starter, but it didn't actually take much fixing.

my surprise interweb points win - How can I create this 'medieval look' using an entry-level camera like the Nikon D3300? which started life as "How can i recreate pictures like these using an entry level camera like the Nikon d3300?", another poor title with very little to go on except the pictures themselves - but again, didn't take much to fix.

& the one my earlier gripe was about - which was closed even though it has answers, because no-one backfilled the question - How to achieve this look in Lightroom?

I haven't checked whether any of these could conceivably be closed as dupes etc, but that's a different matter.

  • 1
    So, requesting you fix the question if you're going to make an assumption about it and create an answer based on that assumption is considered "hammering the poor bugger?" And just for the record, I never actually downvoted your answer. Nor am I the user who downvoted the question, although based on the merits of the question alone the downvote that was cast is certainly justified.
    – Michael C
    Apr 6, 2018 at 1:42
  • 3
    re: "How do I achieve this eye highlight" was actually NOT the OP's question. They were asking about getting clear skin. This is a perfect example of why it's bad to assume the "obvious" intent of the OP. The correct course should be to close the answer as unclear, and let them come back and comment / edit the question to make it more clear. Now, 2 answers addressed the wrong question.
    – scottbb Mod
    Apr 6, 2018 at 2:35
  • "Hammering the poor bugger" is 6 comments all saying the same thing. Re the ring-light/skin smoothing; at the least the OP came back to clarify. Yes, the backfill was premature, I was just annoyed at the number of downvotes & comments it had gained in such a short time. It doesn't actually encourage a newbie to return, which is my overall aim in this. Scaring them off in the first hour is not the best way to retain members.
    – Tetsujin
    Apr 6, 2018 at 6:57
  • @scottbb - the two false-assumption answers were already in place before the first title change. I'm tempted to remove the ref to that question from my OP here, as it has proven to be far too much of a distraction from my actual point, which is to encourage rather than dissuade posters.
    – Tetsujin
    Apr 6, 2018 at 8:55
  • the two false-assumption answers were already in place before the first title change. Sort of. bearmohawk edited the title to include "(ring flash)", which placed it in the edit review queue, and then wrote an answer. So their suggested edit, and answer, basically took place at the same time. You're right though, that CrazyDino's answer was posted before bearmohawk's suggested edit was approved.
    – scottbb Mod
    Apr 6, 2018 at 12:18
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    But regardless, you're right, and that whole question is somewhat beside the point you're making.
    – scottbb Mod
    Apr 6, 2018 at 12:19
  • @Tetsujin Where are those six comments? I see one that requests you place answers in the answer section before you wrote your answer. I see one that addresses your answer that was based on assumptions about what the question meant without making those assumptions clearer in the question.
    – Michael C
    Apr 6, 2018 at 16:51
  • The 6 comments, if we're continuing to be pedantic about it [which is the root of the actual issue] are on the other referenced question. The entire "I'm going to jump on you until you delete your post, or leave & never return" is the issue. This is not a welcoming scenario for any user, let along a new one. I've been on SE a few years, & the net since before www was invented, so I've usually got a thicker skin; but sometimes even I tire of the po-faced attitude on some SE sites.
    – Tetsujin
    Apr 6, 2018 at 17:04
  • My facetious comment - for which I received an admonishment & ref to the "don't post answers as comments" meta was later echoed by someone else & received 5-upvotes, with no sharp retort. The answer I posted may have been good, bad or indifferent - it no longer matters because of the attitude it received - & I'm not a millennial snowflake.
    – Tetsujin
    Apr 6, 2018 at 17:09

2 Answers 2


I would be more inclined to have members post their own version of a question if they see a good question that MIGHT be what the OP was asking. Looking at that first question, it isn't entirely clear that is what they are talking about. It's probably the ring light that they are talking about, but the photos appear to be from the same photographer and they could be talking about any number of other things as well. Hijacking their question on an assumption isn't a good plan.

The first example is probably not a great one because it may be overly simple to what they were trying to get at as a ring flash by itself won't accomplish the exact same look. The second example, the modifications might be a bit off, but I think the answer is fine because it does a good job of covering all the bases of what gives a photo a similar appearance in basically every way. The third one I'm on the fence about because the effect is less pronounced and thus harder to confirm what they are looking for.

I understand what you are getting at, and I do feel we are perhaps overly likely to close a question that we could make sense of or answer when the effect is pretty clear, but I think we also have to be very careful about hijacking an OP's question based on what we WANT it to say rather than what they are actually asking. I think the argument for closure becomes weaker as they post multiple examples, especially if from different artists, because that gives us more to go on in isolating what they are talking about.

Perhaps part of the problem is that users may not know how to describe what it is they are liking about it. It might be worth suggesting that they either describe what they are trying to accomplish or post other samples from either other series or, preferably, other artists that show the same thing. This would help us narrow it down for them and might be more accessible to newer photographers.

  • 3
    duplicating my comment to this meta-question above, The not-really-about-ringlight question is a perfect example of assumptions going the wrong way. The OP came back and commented about their intentions (albeit, in a comment to an answer, rather than the question) in a clear way, sufficient enough to edit their comment almost verbatim into the question.
    – scottbb Mod
    Apr 6, 2018 at 2:41
  • That question might be considered the exception that proves the rule.
    – Michael C
    Apr 6, 2018 at 16:45

Understanding what a question is about is always an exercise in probabilities. Even a well written question doesn't ever really eliminate all doubt. It only tends to eliminate it to a greater degree.

Perhaps the asker thinks that some words they are using mean something else. For instance, this question where the OP is asking about the geometric distortion characteristics of lenses but uses the term perspective distortion repeatedly in the question and many subsequent comments before they come to the realization that what they are asking about is called geometric distortion rather than perspective distortion.

I think it would be a mistake to insist that we should never ever, under any circumstances, guess or assume what a question is about. If the question is very unclear, then we should not make a low probability assumption. But if it seems to be fairly plain what the OP is asking, or if there is one possibility that dwarfs all others, then I think we would benefit more to edit such questions accordingly and proceed from there.

Will we occasionally get it wrong? Yes, we will. But I believe the benefit we gain by filling in the blanks and answering most such questions will outweigh the rare instance when we miss the mark. Even if we don't perfectly duplicate the OP's intention, we've still (hopefully) managed to add to the body of knowledge here that others will find useful.

On the other hand, allowing ourselves to be paralyzed on every question that has even a shred of ambiguity to prevent the rare misfire is, in my opinion, even more damaging. It would be analogous to 7,000,000 people never leaving their homes over the course of a year for fear of being that one in 700,000 persons struck by lightning each year. Would not the collective damage from 6,999,999 lives not lived to their fullest for a year vastly outweigh the one life that lost, at most, a few more decades and the seven others with permanent damage to their health?

(According to the actuarialists, the chances of being struck by lightning in a calendar year are about one in 700,000. But 90% of lightning strike victims survive. 70% of those struck do suffer permanent injuries.)

  • 1
    The counter argument I'd make here is that if the question is really clear enough to not have to take a significant guess at what they are asking, an edit really isn't necessary to respond to it. I do think it is fine to respond to questions that have some ambiguity but seem like a high probability of meaning a particular thing, but I'm more hesitant to edit it unless it's something like fixing terminology that they simply didn't know, but was clearly described. (For example, editing the perspective distortion to geometric distortion if what they were describing was very clearly wrong.)
    – AJ Henderson Mod
    Apr 6, 2018 at 17:07

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